15 Best History Audiobooks You Never Heard in School

15 Best History Audiobooks You Never Heard in School

While history is by definition the study of the past, no subject tells us more about the present, or is as exciting to follow in contemporary times. Some authors cover a massive scope, zoom in to tiny details, focus on individuals or groups, or speculate on the significance of items, materials, and inventions. Unlike your history class at school, these selections aren’t about memorising names and dates — instead, they explore unsolved mysteries, ask fascinating questions, and tackle concepts to ponder long after the final credits. Read on for 15 of the best Audible titles all about history.
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    • By: Yuval Noah Harari
    • Narrated by: Derek Perkins
    • Series: Sapiens
    • Length: 15 hrs and 18 mins
    • Release date: 30-04-2015
    • Language: English
    • 5 out of 5 stars 10,325 ratings
    • ‘Brief’ is a strange word to use in history, but Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is just that. It summarises and highlights some of the most crucial and important of details in Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history to begin to answer some key questions — who we are, how we got here, and where we’re going. Through the learned and comforting narration of Derek Perkins, embark on a thrilling journey to understand what underpins our species, and how from humble and natural beginnings, humans (or homo sapiens) now are ‘rulers’ of the modern world. Bold, vivid and critically acclaimed, there’s no doubt why Sapiens is a Sunday Times best seller.

    Non-member price: $26.99 or 1 Credit

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    • Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?
    • By: Bruce Pascoe
    • Narrated by: Bruce Pascoe
    • Length: 5 hrs and 36 mins
    • Release date: 10-01-2017
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 2,655 ratings
    • Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu looks beyond Australia’s colonial heritage to the First Nations custodians of the land. This accessible listen jumps into the myths and misconceptions of Aboriginal Australians’ ‘hunter-gatherer’ label and suggests that a whole rethink may be necessary to accurately understand and appreciate pre-invasion agricultural systems. Through a spirited performance of his own work, Pascoe uses the diaries of early explorers and the idea of ‘innate superiority’ to suggest that Australia’s pre-colonial systems of food production and land management were far from what they seem. Looking at the world from a slightly different angle gives listeners pause both to consider what their understanding is, and if that should change.

    Non-member price: $29.99 or 1 Credit

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    • By: Bill Bryson
    • Narrated by: William Roberts
    • Length: 18 hrs and 59 mins
    • Release date: 26-12-2004
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 5,263 ratings
    • Given its ambitious scope, A Short History of Nearly Everything sounds like it would be an encyclopedia. But thanks to Bill Bryson’s conversational style and American voice performer William Roberts’s cheerful narration, this audiobook meets listeners exactly where they are, leaving them informed and entertained — without feeling overwhelmed. Bryson’s perspective is particularly relatable as he admits to knowing very little about his topics from the outset, so join him on this journey of learning and exploration to nearly everything.

    Non-member price: $32.06 or 1 Credit

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    • By: Stephen Fry, John Woolf, Nick Baker
    • Length: 7 hrs and 40 mins
    • Release date: 19-10-2018
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 782 ratings
    • Stephen Fry is one of the world’s great storytellers, and in this latest Audible Original Podcast, he goes deep into the surprising, scandalous and often misunderstood world of the Victorian age. Unlike other history audiobooks, this podcast sets the scene with the honky-tonk of piano playing, atmospheric recreations of the events taking place, and the ever-so-animated voice of Fry bringing all the words to life. Written by Stephen Fry, John Woolf and Nick Baker, this title has been split into 12 bite-sized episodes so even the most distracted of listeners will be able to discover a secret side of Victorian Britain hidden in history. But trust us, the provocative performances won’t last you long. Audible Original Podcasts are free for Audible members.

    Non-member price: $30.38 or 1 Credit

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    • By: Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
    • Narrated by: Jocko Willink, Leif Babin
    • Length: 8 hrs and 25 mins
    • Release date: 27-09-2018
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4,120 ratings
    • This is a recent-history entry that doubles as business and leadership advice from the Navy SEALs who led the most highly-decorated special ops unit of the Iraq War. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin candidly narrate their own story, recounting gripping tales of their mission to secure the all-but-lost insurgent-held city of Ramadi. The second half of this work focuses on the authors’ lives after finishing their deployment. The stories of their reintegration into civilian life and the process of starting their own company are just as inspiring as the raw details of their time overseas.

    Non-member price: $26.99 or 1 Credit

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    • A History of Nazi Germany
    • By: William L. Shirer
    • Narrated by: Grover Gardner
    • Length: 57 hrs and 11 mins
    • Release date: 16-07-2010
    • Language: English
    • 5 out of 5 stars 809 ratings
    • Another harrowing account of human cruelty, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich goes beyond a school textbook and maps out in explicit and arresting detail the social and political factors that allowed the fierce and controlling leadership of a nation down a path of unspeakable atrocities. Author William L. Shirer’s experience as a Berlin-based war correspondent gave him a firsthand look at the rise of Nazi Germany, allowing him to tackle the subject as few others could. The resulting work — with spectacular narration that left one Audible listener asking, 'Why can’t all readers be as good as Grover Gardner?' — is a masterful lesson in how, given a particular set of circumstances, it can be frighteningly easy to lead a country down the path to inhumanity.

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    • By: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
    • Narrated by: Jordan B. Peterson, Ignat Solzhenitsyn
    • Length: 23 hrs and 28 mins
    • Release date: 27-06-2019
    • Language: English
    • 5 out of 5 stars 795 ratings
    • The fiftieth-year anniversary of a sobering Soviet tale saw all three volumes of Solzhenitsyn’s work abridged into one and read by his son, Ignat Solzhenitsyn. The author details life in the Communist Soviet forced labour camp system known as the Gulag, through a thoroughly researched document of interviews, legal documents, reports and personal accounts. The most powerful parts of this listen, however, are Solzhenitsyn’s own tales as a prisoner of 11 years. Here, he paints a picture of the unthinkable and brutal environment. Accompanied by a new foreword written and voiced by Jordan B. Peterson, plus an exclusive Q&A section between the two narrators, The Gulag Archipelago gets to the traumatic heart of the Soviet Union’s forced labour regime and how individuals fought for survival in the darkest of days.

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    • By: Andrew Roberts
    • Narrated by: Stephen Thorne
    • Length: 37 hrs and 23 mins
    • Release date: 20-02-2015
    • Language: English
    • 5 out of 5 stars 419 ratings
    • If anyone in the present day is qualified to write a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, it may well be Andrew Roberts. Of international acclaim, Roberts has visited 53 of Napoleon’s 60 battlefields and trawled through his famed collection of letters to masterfully craft an insightful recollection and evaluation of this great leader in history. Narrated by British actor Stephen Thorne, this title details the formative beginnings, energetic and charismatic reign, and eventual downfall of one of history’s most extraordinary lives who played a huge part in transforming France and Europe into a new age. Despite his downfall in the plagued and mismanaged battle of Waterloo in June 1815, Napoleon will always be remembered as one of the world’s most revolutionary leaders.

    Non-member price: $43.99 or 1 Credit

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    • Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses
    • By: Dan Carlin
    • Narrated by: Dan Carlin
    • Length: 7 hrs and 55 mins
    • Release date: 29-10-2019
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 885 ratings
    • History often shows us how far we’ve come, but what about all those near misses that could’ve been disastrous to our future as a species? Weaving true events into stories fit for the most thrilling fantasy novel, author and narrator Dan Carlin grapples with some of the world’s most apocalyptic moments as a lens to understand our future challenges. Carlin’s rousing and entertaining performance brings to life events from the Bronze Age to the nuclear era, and how humans may have just dodged many apocalyptic bullets. You’ll look at history in a totally different way after this listen, counting your lucky stars that total destruction hasn’t occurred — just yet.

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    • By: Stephen Fry
    • Narrated by: Stephen Fry
    • Series: The Mythos Volumes, Book 1
    • Length: 15 hrs and 25 mins
    • Release date: 02-11-2017
    • Language: English
    • 5 out of 5 stars 6,250 ratings
    • In Mythos, actor, comedian, and audiobook narrator Stephen Fry steps behind the writing desk to apply his signature wit to some of the oldest stories in the world: the myths of ancient Greece. Fry’s storytelling — both as an author and a performer — enlivens these age-old tales with an interpretation that breathes heart and soul into the human-like antics of the gods. Retold with great love for the original texts, Mythos instills in these stories of love, war, adultery, revelry, comedy, and tragedy the vitality and life they deserve.

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    • By: Jack Weatherford
    • Narrated by: Jonathan Davis, Jack Weatherford
    • Length: 14 hrs and 20 mins
    • Release date: 16-02-2010
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 879 ratings
    • As an anthropologist studying and teaching in Mongolia for decades, Jack Weatherford collected stories: the facts of Genghis Khan’s life (few, but significant), his lasting legacies, and the intimacy and specialness of Mongolian culture that changed and spread across the world under his guidance. Jonathan Davis and Jack Weatherford’s stellar narration of every novelistic detail guarantees that this listen is among the very finest history works ever recorded. You’ll be eager to dive into more missing Mongol tales after listening to Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

    Non-member price: $33.99 or 1 Credit

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    • The Fate of Human Societies
    • By: Jared Diamond
    • Narrated by: Doug Ordunio
    • Length: 16 hrs and 20 mins
    • Release date: 18-01-2011
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 759 ratings
    • Evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond’s examination of the development of mankind represents an interesting crossover between the historical and scientific, a juxtaposition that gives the listener a unique angle on our collective past. Diamond’s analysis centres on the hows and whys of society’s evolution, focusing on particular events that we now know would alter the course of humankind, but at the time were the result of the world’s unpredictability. A meticulously researched, ambitiously scoped project that’s performed in the calm, confident cadence of Doug Ordunio, Gun, Germs and Steel will pose questions about who we are, where we came from, and how we can find meaning in an existence derived utterly by chance.

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    • By: Laura Hillenbrand
    • Narrated by: Edward Herrmann
    • Length: 13 hrs and 56 mins
    • Release date: 04-12-2014
    • Language: English
    • 5 out of 5 stars 338 ratings
    • Overcoming a childhood of juvenile delinquency to become a celebrated runner and competitor in the Berlin Olympics would be a lifetime accomplishment for most people. But for Louis Zamperini, those events paled in comparison to the struggle for survival he later endured as an Army bombardier during World War II. After his plane went down over the Pacific, Zamperini survived 47 days adrift at sea, only to land ashore in the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands, where he was captured and tortured. Unbroken stands out from the crowd as a particularly affecting and poignant listen due to the sheer number and detail of frightening scenarios that Zamperini faced. The steady vocal performance of celebrated narrator Edward Herrmann enlivens this tale of strength and survival against all odds.

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    • By: Solomon Northup
    • Narrated by: Hugh Quarshie
    • Length: 7 hrs and 22 mins
    • Release date: 06-09-2013
    • Language: English
    • 4.5 out of 5 stars 113 ratings
    • As the source material for the Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning film of the same name, 12 Years a Slave is an autobiography of deeply harrowing events. A first-person account of Solomon Northup, an educated free man of colour who in 1841 was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery, this audiobook reckons with the darkest moments of American history. Ghanaian-born British actor Hugh Quarshie narrates Northup’s stories of unspeakable cruelties with nuance and dignity, making this a retelling worthy to be experienced in audio. Though the nature of horrors described make for an intense and uncomfortable listening experience, Northrup’s memoir is an important work of art on a slice of American history we must never forget.

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Audiobook lists are hand-picked by Audible editors; inclusion is based on a number of factors including
listener ratings, narrator performances, presence on Audible best seller lists and cultural relevance.

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